(Becky, the Mama) Now that summertime is here in Colorado, it is hard for me to stay away from the perfect weather on our inviting back porch!
We nap, visit and eat outside as much as humanly possible. Yesterday, we hosted a group of young couples and little ones for an outdoor brunch. A friend dropped by last night and we enjoyed a plate of nachos and cool drinks as we rocked and swung and chatted in the evening breeze. Tonight we had some dear friends and their little girls over for an old-fashioned supper-on-the-porch that brought back memories of meals around my own grandmother’s table. I made garlic & lemon roast chicken, baked sweet potatoes, Asian peanut buttery green beans (recipe to come soon!), corn, and my simple rustic, pastry-style cherry-blueberry cobbler (a festive July 4 recipe, by the way, with a little scoop of vanilla ice cream and raspberrg sorbet).
But it was the refreshing side-dish that I prepared for tonight’s meal that made me wax nostalgic for potlucks and picnic tables of my childhood: sweet n’ sour refrigerator pickled cucumbers & onions. I updated this beloved Grandma dish by using the small Asian or Persian cucumbers that are often sold in little packages of six to twelve, and becoming increasingly popular in grocery stores everywhere. Sliced a little on the thick side they hold their crunch for days in this pickling liquid. I like to keep a container of these marinated cucumbers and onions hand in the fridge all summer long to add a crisp, cold delightful punch to almost any meal.
You can get creative and add some diced fresh tomatoes, olives, artichoke hearts or any kind of cooked beans and a handful of fresh chopped herbs to this basic dish to create a quick, pretty, refreshing marinated salad for potlucks, picnics and summertime side-dishes. Crunch on and enjoy!
Crunchy, Easy, Refrigerator Pickled Cucumbers & Red Onions
6 to 8 small Asian or Persian cucumbers, sliced about 3/4 inch (leave peel on)
1 small red onion, peeled and sliced thin, pulled apart in strands
1 cup white vinegar
1 cup water
1/4 to 1/3 cup sugar (depending on desired sweetness)
1 T. sea salt
T. dried dill (or 2 T. fresh chopped dill)
1 T. celery seed
1 T. black sesame seeds (optional)
Directions: Mix all of the above together in a dish with a lid. Let the mixture sit on the counter , with lid on top, at room temperature for about an hour and then put in fridge to chill until ready to serve. (Let the veggies marinate at least 3 hours for the best flavor through-out.) Will keep in fridge up to a week, maintaining its crunch.
Although it is raining today, just a few days ago this was the view from my backyard porch swing in Denver Colorado.
And yes, that probably is a yellow flower blooming from big toe — because that is just how happy I am to finally see Spring come to the Rockies.
With the coming of warm weather, I get to dust off the ol’ grill and make some of my favorite summer recipes. This easy recipe for steak marinade works just as well for chicken breasts. The longer you let the beef or chicken bathe in the bag, the happier it gets, but for the steak even four hours will do the trick.
Years ago when I had more energy, lots of kids and a big need for income, I was a caterer and this recipe for marinated chicken or steak was my number one, never fail, go-to main dish. People loved it and requested it again and again!
I am not sure why but it really does bring out the most tender flavor in grilled meat. It is not overly sweet either, as some teriyaki marinated meats tend to be — but just the right the balance. The pineapple juice adds a touch of flavor, but it is a fresh and light background note. Doesn’t cloyingly ring of pineapple.
Nothing says, “Summer is on its way!” like the smell of food on the grill, and a gathering of friends on the porch. This would be absolutely perfect to make for Mother’s Day, which is coming up soon. And by the way, if you are looking for a pretty perfect Mother’s Day Gift — something to entertain and inspire and cheer your mom (or your wife or your daughter or grandmother, or your daughter is now a mom herself), may we recommend a copy of We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook?
For any of you who may live near Alexandria, Indiana (or know someone who does), Rachel and I will be speaking and doing a food demonstration at the Annual Spring Tea, this Saturday May 13, 2014, at 11:00 at Gaither Family Resources. (Click on the link “Gaither Family Resources” and scroll down to the Spring Tea information box for ticket prices and the number to call to make reservations.) We would love to see you, hug your neck and possibly sign a book for you or your mother in person! Ya’ll come!
Juicy, Grilled Pineapple Teriyaki Flank Steak
1 flank steak
Grill Seasoning, about a teaspoon (or enough to season both sides of the steak)
1/2 cup white wine
1/4 cup light soy sauce
1/2 cup pineapple juice (or drain the juice from a can of pineapple rings)
1 T. olive oil
2 T. Worcestershire Sauce
2 large cloves of garlic, smashed with side of knife
Oil for grill pan, if cooking indoors
Season both sides of a flank steak with Grill Seasoning (or salt, pepper and garlic powder). Add the rest of the ingredients to a large, Ziploc bag and carefully squeeze the contents to mix. Place the flank steak in the bag of marinade, seal the bag then squeeze and turn the bag to coat both sides of the steak. Put in fridge to marinate, turning once or twice in the process and marinate anywhere from four to 10 hours.
Fire up the outdoor grill or use a grill pan over high heat (put a little olive oil in the pan if cooking indoors). Place steak on the grill and sear one side until golden brown with nice dark grill marks. Turn over and grill the other side. Then cover the grill pan or close the grill and let it cook for another minute or two. Remove and put on a plate, cover the meat with foil and let it sit so that juices distribute throughout the meat. While the meat is sitting, lightly grill small slices of pineapple (fresh or canned), and bring the leftover marinade to a boil. Spoon some of the marinade over the steak and decorate with pineapple to show it off! When you are ready to serve, remove pineapple slices, cut the steak in thin slices across the grain, giving each person a pineapple half and a drizzle of sauce.
The nice thing about serving a big piece of steak like this is that you serve the outer slices to those who prefer their meat more done, and for those who prefer their meat more on the rare side, serve them slices from the middle of the steak.
Depending on the size of the steak, it will usually feed anywhere from 4 to six people. Delicious with rice or mashed potatoes or pasta; a green salad or steamed/roasted green veggie is tasty and beautiful.
(Becky, the Mama.)
Departing from recipes for yummy healthy food, I had to offer this recipe for nourishing relationships –especially after reading some fascinating research making the news today.
I love it when science finally catches up with my long-held theories. In my experience, the happiest marriages I have seen have been marriages of two optimists. A new study out of the University of Michigan has found this to be true, with some additional benefits as well: “Having an optimistic spouse predicted better mobility and fewer chronic illnesses over time, even above and beyond a person’s own level of optimism. The study tracked adults over age 50 for four years and reported on their mobility, health and number of chronic illnesses.”
There is a growing body of research shows that the people in our lives can have a profoundly positive influence on our health and well-being, but this is the “first study to show that someone’s else optimism could be impacting your own health.”
The opposite has already proven to be true. In the book I co-wrote with Dr. Earl Henslin, This is Your Brain in Love, we spent a chapter warning of the health risks for a spouse who is married to an Eeyore-at-the-Core. As it turns out, depression and pessimism can be catching in marriages. A pessimist partner can pull their once-optimistic mate down into the mire of despondency as well, over time.
My husband, Greg, easily qualifies as one of the most perpetually upbeat, positive people I have ever known. Being married to him these past ten years has easily been the most joyful time of my life, thus far. Until I married Greg, I assumed what so many of us hear: “Marriage is hard work.” It was certainly my experience until I married Mr. Positive, later in life.
This doesn’t mean our life has been easy. As a couple, Greg and I have been through some terrible trials and sorrowful times, but 99% of these times were due to difficulties outside our marriage. My husband has always been my safest haven, and inside his arms is the Happiest Place on Earth. He tells me often that “Loving you, Becky, is the easiest thing I have ever done.” We each brought our own naturally sunny temperaments into our union, and the resulting happiness has been significant.
I must confess, however, that this past year brought a season of profound grief as we suffered the loss of a precious and significant relationship in our family. It was my first experience with months of chronic “situational depression” and it took its toll on both of our normal levels of joy. In fact, we both experienced significant stress-related health issues as a result. Thankfully, the worst of this sorrow is fading — and as we are both prioritizing a “return to joy,” we are experiencing more emotionally sunny days again, and our good health has also returned.
A close friend of mine went from a painful marriage to a classic Eeyore, to marriage to a man who took responsibility for his own joy and took difficulties in stride. Like Greg, her husband saw the best in my friend and downplayed her flaws. We conversed about this one day over the phone. Both of us, stuck in amazement, were having the same reaction: “Wow. Love can be easy? Really?”
We decided right then, if we were to give young women and men advice on who to marry in order to enjoy their life to the hilt; both of us would say, “Marry a guy who makes his own sunshine. Love a person you can lean on for both comfort and joy. Marry a woman who smiles a lot, who has a reputation for kindness and optimism. If you want a happy marriage, do all you can to be a happy person and marry a naturally happy partner.”
(If being positive and joyful is a struggle for you, I would unabashedly recommend the books I wrote with Dr. Henslin a few years ago: This is Your Brain on Joy and This is Your Brain in Love. And if you want to read something humorous and uplifting, that will just generally add to your joy bank, I gotta recommend We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook!)
My parents, blissfully married almost 60 years now, are living examples of the fun, health, and longevity that comes from a union of two natural optimists.
A few years ago I came across a old poem that sounded as if it were written for my husband. I want to share it here as a toast to those people in our lives who are “pleasant to live with” and bring us joy, comfort and, as the latest research shows, good health as well!
(I dedicate this poem to my husband, Greg; my father, George; my mother, Ruthie; my sister, Rachel Ann; my daughter (and co-blogger and co-writer), Rachel Praise and her happy husband, Jared; to my youngest son, Gabe and his cheerful bride-to-be, Aleks – people in my family who are the epitome of this poem in my life, who beckon me onward and upward, consistently, to The Sunny Side of the Street. I love you all!)
Blessed Are They
Blessed are they who are pleasant to live with –
Blessed are they who sing in the morning;
Whose faces have smiles for their early adorning;
Who come down to breakfast companioned by cheer;
Who don’t dwell on troubles or entertain fear;
Whose eyes smile forth bravely; whose lips curve to say:
“Life, I salute you! Good morrow, new day!”
Blessed are they who are pleasant to live with –
Blessed are they who treat one another,
Though merely a sister, a father or brother,
With the very same courtesy they would extend
To a casual acquaintance or dearly loved friend;
Who choose for the telling encouraging things;
Who choke back the bitter, the sharp word that stings;
Who bestow love on others through the long day –
Pleasant to live with and blessed are they. Wilhemina Stitch
Hello, again! We’ve missed you!
Rachel and I took a short Spring Sabbatical after an intense few months of finishing up the manuscript for our next book. The title of the book is Nourished: A Search for Health, Happiness and a Full Night’s Sleep. (It will be released next January, with Zondervan Publishers.) We decided to take some of our own advice in the book, and take a little time off to nourish ourselves — to rest, spend time with family and friends we ignored as we typed away to meet our deadline, and let our brains lie fallow for a bit.
I am spending my 55th birthday in sunny Phoenix this week, a treat and restoration to my soul, especially for this heat-seeking girl who has been stuck in cold, snowy Denver this Spring. I love Denver, but “Spring” only lasts one month in Denver: May. Which means our winter, though often mild and sunny, is long and brown. My eyes are drinking up the bright colors of emerald green and the colorful flowers of purple, scarlet, yellow and orange in warm Arizona.
It has taken a little while, but my desire to cook and to blog has returned. A good sign that my brain has rested enough to access some creative neurons again.
And so this brings us today’s recipe for Butternut Squash and Cranberry Nut Quinoa.
I will admit it. I came late to the Quinoa party. In fact, for a long time, I had a fear of cooking quinoa.
But now, thanks to my daughter’s encouragement and my rice maker (and in a pinch, my microwave) quinoa is my new best friend. I make up a batch at the beginning of the week and keep it in sealed in plasticware , and then toss the fluffy, protein rich, poppy stuff into all sorts of goodies. I love making wraps and burritos with fresh tortillas, quinoa, leftover veggies or tidbits of meat or beans and salsa. (Be sure to check out this recipe for Quinoa Mango Black Bean Burrito.)
For quick lunches, I will often make a layered “bowl” (on a theme similar to the popular 7 layered Mexican “dip”). hummus or refried beans in the bottom of the bowl, followed by quinoa and chopped fresh veggies: yesterday I topped my quinoa- bean bowl with chopped avocado, tomatoes, green onion and cilantro, then gave it all a drizzle of balsamic dressing and ate it with pita chips. (Tortilla chips also work great.)
There there is the ever popular side dish. I made this combination of quinoa with butternut squash and dried cranberries last week, and it reminded me of Thanksgiving…. and was wonderful alongside slices of rotisserie chicken.
Butternut Squash & Cranberry Nut Quinoa
3 cups of cooked quinoa (Click on link to see Rachel’s easy directions for Red Pepper Quinoa. If you cook it with veggie or chicken broth, it adds another layer of yummy flavor. 1 cup dried quinoa will yield 3 cups cooked.)
1 1/2 cups of cooked, diced butternut squash or sweet potatoes (If you have time to roast the diced squash or sweet potatoes in a little olive oil, on a sheet pan, at 350 for about 15 minutes, this adds a nice caramalization and firmness. If you are in a hurry, you can quickly microwave a package of frozen butternut squash.)
1/2 c. dried cranberries or cherries
1/2 c. toasted nuts (slivered almonds, pecans, walnuts or pine nuts are all delicious)
Optional: 1/4 cup feta or goat cheese or blue cheese crumbled
1/4 cup balsamic dressing, your favorite brand (or to your taste )
1/2 t. ground sage
Salt & Pepper to taste
Gently toss together all the ingredients, while warm, in a bowl. Serve and enjoy!
“What WERE those things?” my friend Ingrid asked. “They were aaaamzing.”
What those “things” were is my new favorite super easy “cookie” recipe that is impossible to resist. These chewy, peanutty bars with soft butter chocolate frosting have everything going for them:
First, you probably have the ingredients for them on hand right now.
Secondly, they have fiber and protein to help slow down the absorption of sugar, so you and your kids or guests can enjoy an indulgent treat with less of a sugar rush. (I confess to have eaten a couple of them with an ice cold glass of milk and happily called it breakfast.)
They only take about 5 minutes to mix, just 18 to 20 minutes to bake. Cool to the touch, frost, cut and serve a bunch. This makes them the perfect dessert to bake for last-minute guests, to satisfy a gotta-have-it-now craving for a sweet treat, or make n’ take to a potluck or bake sale.
Making a pan of bar cookies is so much faster and easier than baking cookies… and, I’ve not yet met a cookie I like as well as these peanuty chocolate babies. Be sure to save the link to this recipe because I think you’ll use it again and again.
1/2 c. peanut butter
1/4 c. sugar (I use organic)
1/2 c. packed brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 c. flour (or 3/4 c. flour plus 1/4 c. hemp seeds or ground flax or wheat germ)
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 c. rolled oats
One of Jackson’s first phrases was “Hair back.” Before this, he would point to my hair and just say, “Back. Back.” And now, still, at 2 1/2, he cares just as much. We have a morning ritual. I come in his room and lean over his crib and say “Good morning baby. How was your night?” And he responds with one of two phrases. He’ll either say with a disappointed, slightly surprised look, as if he can’t believe we are still going over this, “Put your hair up, mommy,” or with a smile of approval and gratitude, he’ll exclaim “Your hair’s up!”
Yesterday we went through this conversation again after a breakfast of blueberry waffles (recipe to come soon). He asked me out of the blue, “Is daddy going to pick me up from school tomorrow.” “No, I will, like I always do,” I told him. “And you’ll wear your hair up?” he asked. (Seriously? I thought I had at least another year or two before he cared what I looked like in front of his school friends! What kind of pressure is being put on two year olds these days?)
Tuesday I wore my hair down, but before cooking dinner I went to my room to put it up. Jackson and I bumped into each other as I was walking out of the room. He stumbled backwards, looked up and grinned sheepishly, almost blushing, “You put your hair up for me.” And then I knelt down to my knees, looked him in the eyes and asked, “Do you like when I wear my hair up?” “Yes, I like it.” “Then yes, it was for you. Thank you for thinking I look pretty with my hair up.”
You see, wearing my hair up is the tell-tale sign that I haven’t washed my hair today. It says I’ve been too busy to stop and take care of myself or that I don’t value my appearance. Every mom book out there suggests, “Even if you can’t do it all, at the very least, take a shower, wash your hair and get dressed for the day.” This is bare minimum self-care 101 folks…and I so often don’t get to it.
But Jackson sees the mop of curls wrapped up and twisted in a messy pile on top of my head as beautiful. That messy updo is the sign of a lady who spent breakfast sitting across from her son telling him made up stories about his Adventures on the Construction Site. It’s the sign of a woman who, on at least a weekly basis, snoozes her alarm because her boy woke up asking to sleep in mommy’s bed and she doesn’t want to wake him. It’s evidence she spent her morning pretending to fix the toy weedeater (that isn’t actually broken), instead of leaving him to play alone while she showered.
In reality, it probably all began because he didn’t like how my hair tickled his face when I rocked him as a baby or because on a bad hair day, I closely resemble Medusa. A few days ago, a picture of Prince was up on the tv screen, and he told me matter of factly, sure as could be, “That’s a monster.” We had a talk about all of God’s people being beautiful…but in truth, I might actually terrify him with my wild curls coming out of my head like tentacles looking for prey. Either way, it’s nice to be looked at in awe in my natural too tired for style mama state.
He loves my hair up.
Pausing from our typical “food blog” today, I want to share some nourishing thoughts with you that have awakened something new and good in me.
Yesterday I attended a fascinating workshop on a method for “parenting children in hard places” called TBRI (Trust Based Relational Intervention based on the book, The Connected Child by Karen Purvis). I cannot stop thinking about some of the insights gained, lessons taught, stories of hope shared — and applying them to everything I know about spirituality, relationships and healing. All night and even as I woke this morning, I’ve been having the sort of “A-ha!” moments that feel like mini-explosions in my mind, miracle shifts in understanding.
The main theme that my friend Amanda Purvis (one of the teachers of the workshop) shared, from a deep heart level (sometimes with tears), is that everyone needs to feel their “preciousness” … in the same way that a mother gazes adoringly at her baby in the crook of her arms; or as adults, I imagine this is the way my husband Greg looks at me, his sure blue eyes willing my oft-insecure brown ones of his steady delight, his forever love. As if I am the only woman who exists for him in all the earth.
Dr. Dan Siegal, in his insightful book The Whole Brain Child, alludes to emotional health as helping ourselves and our children live in a “river of well-being.” This sort of balanced existence begins with knowing we are, in the deepest center of our being, “The Beloved.” (Borrowing from the classic by Henri Nouwan.) Children who do not have this sense of “preciousness” grow into adults who do not know this, so at some level, in bad ways and good, they search for this feeling of belonging and being cherished all their lives.
All of us have some trauma, big and small, and each one affects our brain chemistry at the moment. To be bereft of comfort or love after trauma, however, sears our brains with pain; the way we view our world can become skewed and harsh and fearful. But God’s heart is to never leave us “comfortless” and we can heal when we are truly seen, heard, allowed our voice and treated with respect by someone willing to be a loving vessel for God’s love.
In other words, we heal as we see ourselves “precious in His sight” ….. then, in time, we become Wounded Healers (borrowing again from the language of Nouwan), as we allow ourselves to see the “preciousness” in others. We can stand in the gap for El Roi, “The God Who Sees Me” … as we look deeper at one another, and point out the beauty we find there.
Last night Greg and I watched one of my all-time favorite films, Enchanted April. I saw its redemptive themes in fresh light, having just come from a class on how helping wounded children to see their “belovedness” heals and brings them new life. In short, the movie is about four women from the 1920’s who, each longing for an escape from their lives, pool their money together to rent an Italian Villa by the sea, “San Salvatore”. (I realized that even the name of the villa, “Savior”, foreshadowed what was to come.)
Lottie, the discontented but lovable wife –who was the most anxious to flee her life for a month — is the first to wake to lost joy as she allows the beauty of sea, flowers and hills to melt and soften her heart. Then, as she soaks in this balm, feels herself wholly Beloved, she meanders in and out of the other characters’ lives. She says to each person, in her own way , no matter how cranky, or disconnected, vain, or insensitive they are (in the midst of their brokenness and ugliness), “I see inside you, I see the real you. And you are unbelievably precious. In time, you’ll see it too.” She is what some might call a “Christ-figure” in the movie, touching every character and leaving them with a feeling of having been truly seen, messiness and all, and found worthy of love and tenderness. In time, thus loved by a human friend and rocked in the lap of nature, each woman awakens to love and beauty, and one by one, each experiences their own unique April of soul.
At the end of a movie a formerly bitter old lady, now feeling youthfully alive, leaves behind her walking stick, jamming it into the dirt. We see, through high speed film, that it blossoms into a flowering tree. An old walking cane, returned to its original purpose, to be the trunk from which flowers draw their nourishment. A symbol of how the warmth of love can re-purpose our old wounds, bringing us back to Eden and the way life was originally intended to be. When one woman heals, says an old proverb, she heals seven generations. I do not know if this is true, but I know when one woman deeply realizes her belovedness, her very presence is healing to others.
May you feel your “preciousness” today, as you imagine God holding you, rocking you, gazing at you, delighting in you… His forever beloved child. And may you pass this on to your children and your children’s children and all who come in contact with you in the present.
“Yahweh, your God, is in the midst of you, a mighty one who will save. He will rejoice over you with joy. He will calm you in his love. He will rejoice over you with singing.” Zeph 3:7 (World English Bible)